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Talkin' Jazz at the New Orleans JAZZ National Historical Park

New Orleans musicians talk about their craft, their lives, careers and all things musical.


Talkin' Jazz with Rex Gregory


Fred: Welcome to Talkin Jazz. I'm Fred: Casten, and this is a project of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Our guest today is the outstanding saxophonist, clarinetist, Flutists composer and all around great musician, Mr. Rex: Gregory. Welcome, Rex:.

Rex: How are you doing, Fred:?

Fred: My man, I'm just chill and 40 degrees outside New Orleans.

Rex: It's chilly. Yeah. You go. Go.

Fred: Man. I got a chance to wear my overcoat today, though.

Rex: I know it suits you. No pun intended. Yes.

Fred: Indeed. Where are you from? And where did you grow up?

Rex: I grew up in Houston. Texas. I left when I could. I got out about 20 years ago and came here, and. But, you know, it's very fertile ground over there. And I was I was happy to to get to know a lot of great musicians over there. But yet, born and raised in Houston, Dad's from Corpus Yeah. So.

Rex: But now I got family to buy, you know, and, you know, so now I'm here.

Fred: Well, Houston has a pretty rich musical history from rhythm and blues and blues and zydeco to a great classical, great orchestra for many years. What kind of things did you get involved with musically?

Rex: Well, you know, I have kind of an interesting his I guess my grandfather was a dentist in Houston, but he was also a bandleader back in the forties and thirties and forties, I guess you'd say. And they call them Shockey because that's that's the state of dentistry in those days. So, you know, they didn't have a lot of the modern technology, but so my grandpa Lawrence meant around Corpus Christi, Texas, which is where my grandfather was from.

Rex: He was a trumpet player, bandleader, and my grandmother was a vocalist in the band, you know, hence they got married and had my dad. And then the and then they actually end up getting a divorce which is kind of rare in those days. And so then my my grandfather moved to Houston, and that's when he started, you know, working on all all kind of getting in dentistry And so he knew a lot of great musicians back in those days, like Jimmy Ford and guys like that that were in Houston really great alto saxophonist.

Rex: And, you know, there was just a lot of great players around Texas around that time. And you know, I saw sort of like these eight track tapes of Jimmy Ford that I got to get converted and stuff. And, you know, so it was always kind of in the in the family. My grandmother had tons of records and now I've got the record collection since she passed.

Rex: But it was there's always kind of music around, you know. But yeah, there's a lot of great musicians from from kind of like Texas area. The guy I studied with was this guy, David Casares, and he's he's this fantastic teacher, saxophonist, and also this guy, Martin Langford, who's also a fantastic saxophonist, also a very extensive doubler. And you know, so he's he's kind of responsible for me, you know, having to bring four horns to a gig now.

Fred: Yeah. So, you know, it's look like you play everything in the woodwind family, but maybe the double reeds you ever tangle with.

Rex: No, no. I mean, I've tangled with them, but. But not successfully. Yeah, I think they tangled with me.

Fred: I always say that the most patient parents in the world must be the parents of oboe or bassoon students.

Rex: And tell you my oboe sound, my elbow sounds more like a sharp eye when I'm away, so it'll tell you how I'm doing.

Fred: Yeah. Where you could scare people.

Rex: That's right. I can.

Fred: That's what Ron Carter told me. You played cello just to scare people, to go right on. Well, what was your first entry? How did you get into music? And how old were you when you. When you did?

Rex: Oh, you know, I was I was actually it's funny, I had a early sort of computer learning program for the piano. They'd said, oh, let's see if he likes it. My dad was, of course, thrilled if I was going to take to music. So he was he was like eagerly anticipating But I they had this keyboard that hooked up to the computer.

Rex: And I mean, this is in the early nineties. So this is like an old, you know, just above a one A or whatever. And with a MIDI cable, I was like new technology or, you know, but it was this program called The Miracle and you could take little piano lessons. And so it seemed like that was I was about nine and it seemed like I'd taken to it.

Rex: So when it came to be fifth grade band, it was sort of like choose an instrument. And yeah, alto saxophone jumped out at me. So that was it for me.

Fred: Anything you recall about why the outer looked appealing?

Rex: Not particularly, to be honest. I mean, I think it was just seemed like a good idea, I guess. A trumpet, you know, I don't know if I didn't know if I want to deal with all the buzzing and right clarinet and flute were, I don't know, maybe at that time, like girls instruments or something.

Rex: You know, apologies. So I don't really I actually, I it could have been completely random, you know, just just happened to be the saxophone and this stuck with it, you know, and, and a took to it.

Fred: And so you had elementary school band or.

Rex: Yeah, it was, it was a school band. And I started in that and it just seemed like I kept, you know, sticking with it and playing it. And then they had a really good program in Texas or in Houston, I should say. It's called a summer jazz workshop. And a lot of great players that are from Houston have kind of done a ten year through that.

Rex: And at that time, it was it was led under the direction of Conrad Johnson, who was elder statesman in in Houston, and he actually passed, I don't know, maybe about ten years ago or something like that. And, you know, it was a great program that brought in a ton of kids it was kind of a pipeline, you know, to get in advanced in schoolyards, which is a big arts high school there.

Rex: And then later on to in HS PVA, which was sort of like the Anoka of Houston. And so, you know, and it was at a historically black college in Houston. And so a lot of a lot of rich culture and lineage there because it's, it's, it's very, very much of of a have a mentorship type of program. Right where, you know, it's not kind of a milquetoast jazz program.

Rex: It's, it's like, you know, people that have that elders teaching them music. So yeah, it was that was a great opportunity for me and that that's what really got me into jazz more, you know, whenever so called jazz. And I you know, after that I just kind of took to it from there. My dad bring me all these gigs.

Rex: He was, he was a musician, too. He was he wasn't a jazz musician. He was like a psychedelic rock musician turned country musician. And so he but he would bring me to all the gigs and he knew how to start talking to musicians. And, you know, so I was just kind of surrounded.

Fred: By getting immersed in that world.

Rex: Yeah. And just just coming from a musical family and then, you know, we I was just lucky enough to get put in the right places in that regard. And I never thought I would never conceived of doing anything else, you know?

Fred: So even from an early age then music was sort of without even questioning it maybe.

Rex: Yeah, I was I was maybe somewhat groomed for it, but I was also just kind of a natural, you know, water passes every stone kind of just following the path, you know?

Fred: Yeah. So looking back, it looks maybe more direct than it did at the end.

Rex: Yeah. Maybe more or maybe more like it was set out for me, you know? Then I thought of it at the time, but yeah, he had he had a lot to do with it. I think he was he was kind of well, I think my dad was very excited that I took to music just because he, he was a musician and just the whole family to.

Fred: Us, to what was his instrument.

Rex: He was a bass player and also a trumpet player. It was kind of like a grade school trumpet player turn like bass player and drummer, but mainly bass was his was his acts, you know, and he had a sort of garage band in the sixties that did actually did pretty well, was called the Zachary Acts. And it was like this British Invasion style band you know, and they they actually did pretty good.

Rex: They made like number one on the Texas charts or number two. But things kind of fell apart on the business end and you know, maybe, maybe a lot of drugs and stuff around that. I was right, right in the, you know, sort of the mid its mid-sixties you know, and they were also really young, like everybody in the band was between 15 and 17.

Rex: So they couldn't really manage.

Fred: Their own affairs very.

Rex: Well. So yeah, that was always kind of in the background too. And yeah, and then New Orleans just kind of found me. I found it. I was a coming out of school thinking I was going to go to New York. 911 happened the year I was graduating high school. And so just kind of looking around like where where else can I go?

Rex: And, you know, because it was kind of a weird time. And New Orleans opened its doors and I've been here ever since, pretty much.

Fred: Where are you still playing alto then as you got into jazz?

Rex: I was yeah, I was playing alto. I already had a tenor and I'd done some flute and clarinet lessons as well with with Martin, who I mentioned earlier. And so, you know, he he came from a rural north Texas. He came he graduated from north Texas. And so he had a very he very much had a philosophy that you had to double as a saxophonist.

Rex: And so that which I really appreciate, I it's it's really a kind of help my not only my career, but also my just breadth in music, you know?

Fred: Right. Yeah.

Rex: I really, really appreciate him for that.

Fred: I think any instrument you you get some fluency going helps open yet another door. Absolutely not a window. However you want to express it.

Rex: Yeah, absolutely. And it's a you know, you you kind of see the larger picture. You could you can get multiple voices on multiple instruments and then, you know, it's almost like playing playing different parts. You know, if you're if you're an actor, you wouldn't want to just play you know, Mercutio or whatever like then only that role you would want to play other parts of the play as well.

Rex: So that kind of thing. Yeah.

Fred: Yeah. It helps keep it fresh. I know Tony Bennett told me that Duke Ellington told him this. I always have two things, you know, so when you get tired of one you can go to the other one.

Rex: That's right.

Fred: Yeah. And refresh that one while you're working through that one.

Rex: That's true.

Fred: And for, you know, it's about five things right?

Rex: Yeah. You know, I was telling everybody in the past couple of days, sometimes I do feel like I'm in the blender a little bit because they OK, this gigs flute and clarinet, this gigs alto and tenor, this you know, Singleton wants me to bring the bass clarinet, so I got it, you know, so it's like, yeah, that's right.

Fred: Because a.

Rex: Juggling.

Fred: Act listening to some bass clarinet. You were playing on Brockett Summer, right? Yeah.

Rex: Yeah, yeah. So it's like a you know, a lot of spinning plates sometimes. But, you know, I'd say it's a good process, though, and teach you to have a little bit of discipline and have a little bit of time to really you don't have that much time to practice badly, you know, to have, you know, perfect practice, I guess, you know, so, yeah, I was, it's, it's, it's been good to me.

Fred: Well, coming from Texas, too, there's a great tenor tradition. The Texas Tenors.

Rex: That's right. That's right. And I don't, I don't know why I'm spacing on, on, on the great one of the great tenor saxophone, Arnett Cobb, who you know, you could see videos of him actually playing with Ellis. And I want to say Chris seven is in that he's like 17 or something like that in that video. But then playing at this club, I could be wrong about this, but I think they're playing in ovations, which was a funny club in Houston that that had a very art deco look.

Rex: And this kind of like eighties, you feel like you're in that music video for stepping out whatever, you know. Oh, all right. The cover they get the cover of stepping out. It's like the club looks like that. And so they, you know, I think there's a footage of them doing that. And so anyway, he was there was a lot of great tenor players like that that were around and yeah, it's it's it's there's a there's a guy who used to come down from Dallas here, Sally Carol, who's still up there and still playing.

Rex: But he was another kind of big, big tenor sound and and, you know, and a few guys that had taken from him in Dallas that were younger also had that sound so whenever we'd go to Allstate or something, you'd have these like big tenor players, right? You know, and it was kind of a kind of a big deal, you know?

Fred: I know Arnett was took the vocalist Rosanna Boudreaux under his wing when she moved to Houston pretty early in life and mostly a blues singer at that point. It kind of helped her become a jazz singer.

Rex: Right. Right.

Fred: And I'm sure he mentored a lot of other people now. Yeah. There in his in his time. And you certainly got a lot of great mentors here in New Orleans. Absolutely. You landed at you and talk talk about that experience you got here in 2000 to.

Rex: Do thousand two. Yeah. The at that time, Bryce Winston was still teaching at UNO and also Ed Peterson, who just retired and, um, you know, taken from Ed, he, he really taught me how to practice and just how to be really thorough, you know, I mean, it gives you guys such a incredible mind and he really breaks things apart, really parses things apart and builds it all back together again.

Rex: I mean, you know, he's, he's like a sonic engineer. So it was really I really had the privilege of taking from him and kind of learning how to how to play in practice. And then, you know, taken from Bryce was another real privilege. I mean, he just helped me get really inside of the music. So, I mean, I was I was really lucky at that time to to have great teachers.

Rex: Right. When I landed and so, yeah, I just got to thank him for it, you know? And I was also lucky enough I was I was there's the Funky Bird was still open and was playing at Snug. And there was a lot of places to play, especially modern jazz at that time. Yeah, it was a little bit more established or something like that.

Rex: And so I had a lot of playing opportunities right off the bat. And so that was another kind of school of school knocks, you know, to go out there and, and, you know, make it happen. Right away.

Fred: Were you writing music at that point?

Rex: I was writing a little bit like a I in an in high school. I had a senior recital and I did a few original compositions. So I'd always kind of been writing and yeah, trying to come up on my own thing. And, you know, I in that regard, I had a few interesting I mean, of course, at that time, everybody was crazy about the music of like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner and all that and all the Crisscross guys like James Blake and, you know, people that were putting out great records around that time.

Rex: And so I was kind of into that calling to New York sound a little bit. And then but I was also very kind of influenced by classical music. We had this we had this music history class, and so we played a the opening prelude of, of when when lilacs last in the Dooryard bloomed by Hindemith. Yeah. And that that piece just changed me forever.

Rex: And so, you know, when I heard the music of Hindemith at that kind of got my wheels turning a little bit more towards pure composition as opposed to modern jazz sound. And, you know.

Fred: Yeah, broaden the palette that you were thinking about or felt you could work in.

Rex: It felt, yeah. I felt like I could recontextualize myself like in a different light or you know, I just, I was just blown away by that sound. And so I've just begun to think of, Yeah. Music and just a totally different way, you know, more, more towards the angle of contemporary art. And then, you know, the jazz label, which has never really worked well for anybody.

Fred: So except maybe for the record company.

Rex: Yeah, he's a great company. He'd have a nice little section in Barnes and Noble, you know what I mean? But so it was, it was a yeah, I was I was fortunate to hear stuff like that and, and like kind of weird stuff like, like she played us George Crumb's Black Angels.

Fred: All right.

Rex: Yeah. Just really avant garde stuff. And I'd never heard anything like that up until that point. And so it kind of got me going on that path. And then I heard stuff like Oh, Reich's piece they wrote for 911, you know, stuff like that.

Fred: Some of the middle minimalist things.

Rex: Yeah. Me. Yeah. This kind of minimalist stuff and, you know, I don't know, just kind of broadened my horizons.

Fred: So who are some of the classmates in your Uno years?

Rex: You know, at that time it was, let's see, who were the real players. I mean, obviously my, my good friends were also from Houston, James Westfall, vibraphonist who lives back in Houston now, and Jesse McBride who was still here. And so obviously, you know, obviously my good friends and then I think Jesse Mauro was going at that time and actually, you know, I saw Quin Kershner the other night just on Frenchmen Street and I was like, oh my God, I missed him.

Rex: And since Katrina, maybe wow. So I mean, that was that was kind of kind of fun to see him again. I just remember, like those all those guys because it was it was Quin Kirshner, Matt Coleman, Biscay, Mama Kleiman on vibes and Joe Butts on bass, who I think is still around. I'm actually haven't seen him in a while, but maybe he's in Portland again.

Rex: I forgot, forget. But anyways, it was a pretty fertile you know, class at that point. Samir Zarif, who was also a good friend of mine at that time, who lives in New York now, um, yeah, I think that about covers all the real players. Unless I'm missing someone.

Fred: Yeah, but yeah, but you were working snug in the funky, but what's called is still in operation in those days.

Rex: I don't think so.

Fred: Don't gone by.

Rex: Then. Yeah, they the name again was, you said what was in a.

Fred: Coffee shop over here on Decatur called.

Rex: He's called, he's now called his was, was out, I think by then. Yeah. McCarthy was a cafe. Brazil was still going on, but it was really.

Fred: It was kind of a jam session. Right.

Rex: So yeah. No, I think that was that was out.

Fred: Before then in the nineties. Yeah.

Rex: And then but but Cafe Brazil was still a thing. It was kind of at the end of its heyday I think, you know.

Fred: Well, I've seen you play across a wide range of approaches, just most recently with cellist and Looper, Helen Shealy.

Rex: Yeah, Looper.

Fred: Really great sound. You played clarinet, flute and saxophone. Yeah. With her so you know, from the get go, really have had the opportunity to kind of have a lot of a lot of opportunity in a pretty wide variety of settings.

Rex: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. It's, it's it's fun because I feel like in a city, it all works you know, and there's common threads everywhere. Like, we would go and play her stuff. People respond to it so well. I mean, she'll do a and she's an incredibly well-rounded musician. I mean, it's kind of no doubt about that. And so, you know, she'll, she'll plays French horn soul and then play like a Lou Reed song and then play like a, a PJ Harvey song and then, you know, it's just it all it all works, you know?

Rex: So it's interesting. It's like I've done a lot of different styles in the city. Like I played I've you know, I've done gigs with like Don Van P and Wendell Pernice and and Tom Hook and Wendell Pernice, and I've, I've done, you know, two traditional jazz brunches I've done and then kind of the music of Jelly Roll on a big stage or something like that.

Rex: So I've, I've done some traditional stuff. You know, I've done some, you know, kind of like the more modern jazz I just played with last night. I just played with Peter Harris and and James and Ross and Shapir. That was, that was a hell of a gig. I really enjoyed.

Fred: That. A nice quartet.

Rex: Yeah. We had a lot of fun. We, we played a we played pass ours there in a little over time, but yeah, so was a yeah. So doing that and then and then going to the music of Helen, it's like, you know, at that point it's spanning a lot and it is challenging sometimes to like create a common thread right.

Rex: And to make it all work, you know, but, but ultimately I think it's about the energy. I think it's about, you know, listening and, and reacting. And so if me and Jamison were actually talking about this the other night and you kind of brought it back home for me where like you, you listen to the music as it's happening and you're playing it, but it's almost like you're having an out-of-body experience and it doesn't matter what kind of for me, it doesn't matter what kind of genre we're doing.

Rex: I try to pay homage to what you know. Obviously, you know, I try to study greats. If I'm playing trad, I try to study people like Omar Simian or Sidney Bashi. And but Barney Guard and just kind of get myself in the style and appreciate it and kind of get myself in that format, you know? But ultimately, I'm trying to have the same kind of yeah.

Rex: Out-of-Body experience, I think is is the best way to put it or where you're saying like surrendering the self, you know, to, to it and if I can keep that in mind, it makes it all a lot easier, you know, kind of all these rapid transitions that I have to do, you know?

Fred: Yeah. A lot to keep in mind. But when you excuse me approach it is whatever I do is in the service of the music. That's right. Then you have a good basis to work from.

Rex: Yeah, that's true. And you know, it does, you know, I mean, obviously you got to be kind of versed in the styles, you know, but, you know, ultimately you just kind of got to really surrender to it and you know, I mean, I've been fortunate, you know, like I've done a few, a lot of really great gigs that have or residencies or whatever that have given me an opportunity to work it out, you know, like I used to play every Tuesday with Jason Marsalis Trio and that was is a real lesson for me.

Rex: I mean, just, just trying to a play trio for 4 hours or whatever at the Royal Sonesta and be you really know all those tunes and stay on top of it. And so that was a great gig for me. We used to do a residency, incidentally, also on Tuesdays at Snug Harbor with the Next Generation.

Fred: Oh, right. Yeah.

Rex: Which I was I was lucky to come under that tutelage of Harold Bettis and, and all those guys. It was, it was an to play all that music. Yeah. So I mean, I've had a lot of chance. I say I, I like to tell people that I've had a lot of chance, a lot of chances to mess it up on stage.

Rex: You know, it's a, it's like.

Fred: A learning experience.

Rex: Right? And that's, that's, hey, your mistakes are your best lessons. So I was, I've, I've had a lot of chance to do it. So that's, you know, I'm just very fortunate in that regard, you know, and now after after COVID, just kind of getting back into know, remembering what it was all about. You know, I mean, it's it's been kind of a tough transition, but getting better at it.

Rex: You know, again, kind of jumping into all these situations these things, not having any fear or whatever.

Fred: You know, that's a really interesting feeling. The one you're describing, that out-of-body experience when it's when you're more of a vessel than a creator.

Rex: Right.

Fred: Or you get that sensation. Anyway, writers talk about that a lot and writing, but fiction or poetry or whatever and I hear a lot from from musicians when it's really going right. That's how it is. That's how it feels. But it's that's really unique and attractive sensation.

Rex: Yeah. I think it's just the fact that we're all in the same space. So it's it's when you can listen to the space and as opposed to whatever you're thinking about, you know, great things can happen, you know? I mean, it's, it's, it takes some, some preparation and some, you know, you got to kind of eat your meat, your salad and your potatoes or whatever, but and do your warm ups.

Rex: And so you're not your mind's not on your instrument so much. And then you can release it and and yeah, it's, it's, it's where all the magic happens. Yeah.

Fred: The tip of the iceberg because there's a lot of bass down there that led to that moment, right?

Rex: Yeah. Yeah, it's almost like preparation, but yeah, it's a, a it's a good feeling. It's good to be able to do that again. I think after I would say after Kovac because we're still in it, but, but you know, with this whole process of, of during COVID, I didn't play really at first. I was, you know, I have all this great time to do projects and stuff, and that lasted for about three months.

Rex: And then then I just kind of almost stopped playing completely you know, and especially not having that live thing was very disorienting, I'd say, you know, because you kind of forget and almost seem like none of it ever happened. You know, it was like almost like this clean psychological break between then and now. And so it was, you know, really challenging to really get back into it.

Rex: You know, I had only really started playing because I had a pregnant wife at the time. And in the beginning of COVID, my wife was pregnant with her second or our daughter. And so we were extra cautious. So we we didn't I didn't do any livestreams. I didn't do any getting together outside, whatever. I didn't do any of that.

Rex: And because we couldn't predict the effects of COVID on a pregnant person and they didn't have any studied, you know, they had they had no studies or anything at that time. So, you know, it was a pretty clean separation between, you know, my life up to that point and then my new life of just not doing any of that.

Rex: And so musicians were kind of like the first to get hit and the last to come back. And so, you know, everybody had their own challenges with it, but mine were where I guess, you know, my own. And and so it's just good to get back to it. It's good to get back to like being able to have that that feeling of what's the what's the word ceremony.

Rex: I guess you could even say, you know, every gig is a kind of ceremony for me now especially. So.

Fred: Yeah.

Rex: You know, with time, it gets easier it's getting better.

Fred: It takes a minute to kind of readjust to just being around other people. Yeah. That's more than, say, your immediate family.

Rex: Yeah. Absolutely.

Fred: But at the live concerts and performances I've been to in the last several months, so you have all shared the obvious love of the musicians for finally being back on the stage doing that. Right. And the audience for being there to receive it. So it has been energizing in a certain way to get back into it. I know I think a lot of musicians had experienced what you did, and for some they would share it a lot.

Fred: But man, it's just not the same.

Rex: No, I imagine you've talked to a lot of people about it then. Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, just being out and about and, you know, when we're all about, we sort of talk about it, but we also try it. Maybe we try not to or you know, we're just saying, you know, you know, but.

Fred: So you just kind of have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not linger on it too much. But you do these things do occur, right? Yeah. As as as we go through these experiences and like you said, we're not finished with this one.

Rex: No. Yeah.

Fred: Either.

Rex: Yeah. I mean, you know, cautious optimism, fingers crossed.

Fred: Not it you in 2010 I think you put out your the end of oblivion CD. Let's talk about a little bit about that. What's that been in the works for a while when you finally were able to get that out on hand.

Rex: Yeah yeah I put out and into oblivion you know yeah. At a time when I was, I'd done a lot of writing at that point and I just had a ton of sketches little parts here and there and I think I was I say I think you know, but I was kind of intrigued again going back to listening to Hindemith and just being impacted by that kind of music.

Rex: I read a book called The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, which, you know, people have differing opinions on how good that book is. But I it really brought for me the the home for me, just the continuous thread of 20th century music. I think that I was I was this illusion and almost just possessed of the modern jazz world.

Rex: And I had I didn't feel like I still don't feel like the modern jazz world is is like on a right footing or something like that. I just felt a little bit too, you know, like people playing from defensive postures and kind of like this a false intellectual ism, I don't know. So I had my qualms with it and I was living on the outside of it, you know, whatever.

Rex: And I so then when I read this book, it it kind of put this thread for me that was like I felt like I had tapped into some kind of a Yeah. Continuous thread or some kind of root thing of just just music and meaning and the melody. And it got me out of playing overly complicated chord changes that just don't mean anything or mean very little or something, you know, because because I mean, you just hate to see everybody paying $25 cover charges, being bored to tears, you know, it's like, it's that there's just that there was just like felt like a disconnect.

Rex: Yeah. And so I, you know, when I, when I got more into that frame of mind and I started writing purely compositionally, I guess, and and so I don't know, I guess that that record was somewhat of a response to the brutality in there in the 20th century and the you know, of course, you know, 21st century was right around the corner.

Rex: So I was kind of premature. But I think, I mean, you can't blame a 25 year old for trying, I guess yeah.

Fred: The 21st century is off to a hell of a start.

Rex: Oh yeah.

Fred: Rollicking was the fun begun. I think it must have.

Rex: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It's just beginning. But yeah, so it's, it was, it was kind of like a trying to find, you know, there's a lot of things I was reading around that time where it just was like a big meditation on like where we are in this point of time and kind of our common heritage up to this point, you know, and it felt like a good place for a first record and making a first statement.

Rex: And it was like in the liner notes, there was a quote from Theodore Adorno says, you know, after Auschwitz, how can we even write poetry? You know what any of it good for, right? And I guess the answer was this. We will we still have this. So, you know, well, I guess it was like Emerson, you know, why can't we produce a a philosophy or a something of our own in our own time that belongs to us?

Rex: Because we aren't completely dispossessed. We still belong to the moment. And so, yeah, it was it's true. I was this kind of restless wrestling with all these things.

Fred: Finding ways, I think to harness traditional means of expression into the stories of our lives.

Rex: Right? Yeah. And that's what I think impressed me about, you know, those great composers, I'd say, is they took you know, they took melodies and strings and were made them completely in their moment, you know, even if it was a folk song that they adapted. Right. You know, somebody like Shostakovich is one of my heroes who the ways that he uses traditional Russian melodies in his string quartets, I just I find it remarkable.

Rex: And so it's a there's always a way to to contextualize the present and and it's and it's you know, it's attempting to, you know, find meaning in belong to it.

Fred: I always loved that quote attributed to Debussy. You said, if you want to hear 17th century German folk music, listen to Bach.

Rex: Yeah, right, right. And here folk music, right? I mean, that's a that's a that's a strong statement. And it's a I guess that was a problem also with the term classical. I mean, and it's it's a nice section in Barnes Noble's, but it really doesn't tell the whole I say Barnes Noble's because, you know, I got family down to buy it.

Rex: But so like the you know, the term classical doesn't really do that music justice did it it a it it it wipes out every doing contextually about you know it's like saying 19th century literature. It's like I mean you got you got local color, you've got post jacobian, you've got, you know, it's just you've got a whole range.

Rex: You got so you know, the antebellum you've got you've got, you know, later it's just you can't you can't take one catchall word word and you can but it's like if you if you go pass the word, then then you find that every, you know, everything of those times, you know, had had very powerful context in which those works existed, you know.

Rex: Right. And so, I mean, I guess that's what I was trying to get back to, you know, in some, some degree, you know, just break open the word and just get to pure melody. Yeah.

Fred: Yeah. Well, that 2010 CD was followed up in 2013. Yeah. With Rocket Summer, was it.

Rex: Yeah. Rocket Summer. And that was a that was an attempt kind of to have a you know, classic, almost like a classic Blue Note record or something with the way that like all these great records told these just stories, you know, something like something like Wayne Shorter's juju or so-and-so's a portrait, you know. Right. And, and so what I was trying to do with that record is I was kind of reading books and literature and I just wanted to, to bring those stories to life.

Rex: You know, there's almost a kind of I still do this as like if I read a book and I really like it, I try to make like a soundtrack to it in my, in my head or something. And so it was just a kind of like I was just paying tribute to a lot of great stories.

Fred: So there's a little narrative behind each of those pieces or most of them.

Rex: Most of them, yeah. I mean, some of them don't directly relate to books, but like Rocket Summer, for example, was a chapter actually I think is the first chapter in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. And so it was just like my little tribute to to that chapter. And then other things like Very Air was a, was a tribute to the Red and the Black by Thomas Stemple because that was the town that that this little upstart character came from.

Rex: And that book, I really loved that book. And yeah, so that a lot of those songs come from stories and then I sort of like made new stories out of things and yeah, it was, it was, it was fun record. I really kind of wanted like this classic quartet quintet sound for that, you know? And so that was kind of like something I wanted to, to, to go for.

Rex: And yeah, I.

Fred: Always enjoyed your playing. On speaking of that kind of sound, the second record that Larry Siebert made of Jerome Terriers. Oh, yeah. Old times right by them, too. There's like that classic Blue Note quintet. Yeah. Sound and like, I think take that is, you have a really nice solo on.

Rex: That and thank you for that. Yeah. He he had a we were lucky to play his music. I mean, that was it was a oh, yeah. Jerome Terry. I couldn't believe that he wrote all that sort of just in obscurity. I mean, it's really really powerful stuff, you know, and I'm really glad we got to have him here.

Rex: His music played.

Fred: Yeah, I.

Rex: Know. His dad was.

Fred: Around really special. So touched by all of that on.

Rex: So glad to hear that. You know, there was there was a Harrison piece, Jerome. That was, that was that was really I was really glad we were able to give that to him.

Fred: One of the great creative bursts I think we've ever witnessed when he wrote these tunes. Yeah. In about 12 months I think.

Rex: Really? I didn't even know that. Yes. I thought he had kind of compiled all of them throughout the.

Fred: Course of his life, but I think.

Rex: He went through this big.

Fred: Really got the majority of the work done. Wow. And after his diagnosis of.

Rex: Diagnosis.

Fred: That the cancer was going to get him.

Rex: Oh, wow.

Fred: So remarkable. Anyway, beautiful repertoire. You guys helped document your bone both of two of those records for sure. Yeah, you do. Are you on the gospel record?

Rex: Yeah, I think I yeah, you know, I did. He put that out. I don't even know if he put that out.

Fred: I don't even know if it ever.

Rex: Yeah, I don't know if it came out. And I was maybe he did, but.

Fred: I think it.

Rex: Did. I think it was gone. And so I didn't really know. Right. But yeah, I'm on that, too.

Fred: Yeah. Jay's dream. Yeah. Another nice solo of yours.

Rex: Oh, yeah. That's a great tune. That's that's you know, that tune actually reminds me a lot of this tune called Harlow's Laughing.

Fred: Oh, yeah. But yeah.

Rex: It's a Harold tune. The way the structure is and the way that the chords kind of move in this. Yeah. Circular way.

Fred: Yeah. Hear what you what you're saying.

Rex: You know that. Yeah. East Room. That's a that's a that's a tune I would play on my own gigs, you know? I mean, this guy wrote. Yeah. Compositions that stand up and it's a yeah. It's this, you know, he was like a wedding musician in Tibet. Oh, and, and home on and stuff. And so, I mean, it's, it's, it's amazing.

Rex: I mean, it's a, you know, I guess it's, it's, it's unfortunate that, that, that diagnosis is what spurred a creative outburst. I mean, you, you would, you know, it's just a lot of people don't have the right avenue or feel like they don't have the right out there because there's so much pressure to, to, to do and especially, you know, places like down the bayou where they don't they don't really get a whole lot of music like that that, you know, there's a lot of pressure to sound a certain way or just, you know.

Fred: And limit yourself.

Rex: And. Yeah. And just feel just feeling separate from from your surroundings.

Fred: Right.

Rex: So yeah, I'm just really glad we got to do that for.

Fred: Yeah. 2017 you after 15 years here you headed west to Seattle. What sparked that move?

Rex: Ah, you know, at the time, honestly, I was really worried about climate change. And I still am. But at that time it felt like I was going to a climate refuge, feel like I had to get a head start over there. And going over there I realized there is no climate refuge because I mean that everywhere. Yeah. I mean, the year that we were moving, you know, we, we'd put the house on the market and we were going to the process.

Rex: My wife is in public health, and she got a, you know, the company that she works for here and still works for had a office that they're opening up in Seattle. And so we're like, well, let's try it there's a lot of other reasons to my well, my mom was living alone in Houston, and her family's all kind of settled in Portland.

Rex: And my grandmother was sick at the time, so it felt like so she came up with us actually, and was able to take care of my grandmother before she passed. And so it was it was kind of a good move for everybody at the time. You know, it just all kind of made some kind of sense I didn't necessarily want to leave New Orleans for any musical or personal reason.

Rex: I loved my friends and my family and you know, all the people I played with. So it had nothing to do with that. But it was it was just feeling like maybe I need to take the next step here. I had and I had a son that was about to start school. So it was like, well, if we're going to do this, let's just get a foot in the door.

Rex: So you know, that that all kind of predicated that decision. And I was there for about three and a half years and yeah, found out there's no such thing as a climate refuge. I mean, the year that I was moving there was the first year that they had these massive wildfire smoke covering the city for weeks. And then it never really happened, you know, and it was, you know, everything.

Rex: All right, here we go. And then right as we're selling about Sell the House, we see this news story and it's covered in smoke. And we're like, well, maybe we didn't make the right decision. But I mean, that same year, we had those once in a thousand year floods and Covington and whatever, Gonzalez and Ryan and even here with the like 11 inches and two and a half hours or whatever and things that are becoming more common.

Fred: Oh yeah. I was at the Satchmo Summerfest right over here in the Jazz Museum and it rained. It was like you were underwater, right? It rained that hard. It was coming down that hard. It was like nine inches in about 2 hours.

Rex: Right. As we come in, you know, and I used to at that time I was living in de SACS or to say on the other side of the fairgrounds and my house and de SACS was basically a lake, you know, and it was about it was about a foot from the floorboards. And I was like, well, you know, maybe we getting out at the right time.

Rex: My mom was living in Houston and Hurricane Harvey that happened in Houston. Luckily, she didn't lose her house. But I mean, it was it was a mess. Right. And the pictures I saw, you know, from Harvey, I was like, that's not real, man. I mean.

Fred: Three inches of rain in some places.

Rex: Yeah. I mean, yeah, 50. They had this picture right around Myelin Plaza. I remember going on it like a blind date in that area. So it's I know that area very well, but so they they they had a picture of it. And the the water was almost I think it was like up to or above the left hand turn signal.

Rex: And I'm like, that's impossible, you know, because that's not like a bowl. It's like a yeah. I mean, there's no reason that I mean, that was just unreal. I couldn't believe it.

Fred: Yeah. This amount of water.

Rex: A tremendous amount of water.

Fred: Yeah. So anyway, a lot of reasons you got out of Seattle. How did you like it?

Rex: I liked it. I had a, you know, a lot of great musicians up there. There was a guy like we were talking about this earlier, this guy, Jay Thomas, I really had fun playing with him. He's a he's a rare, rare bird unicorn, like trumpet sax player. Also flute man. I mean, he's he's a real he's a real killer.

Rex: He's he's he plays great. So I always enjoy playing with him and really swings. There's a lot of guys from the corners Academy that were excellent musicians. This guy, Dylan Hayes, this guy Xavier like Story A and this guy Lucas winner, Max Walker, real young, real young guys. That for me, it was more challenging music than I'd ever that I'd played up to that point.

Rex: I mean, it was I call it like two Seattle Jazz ninjas, you know? I mean, they're really something else you know? And I got to play the music of Jim Knapp, who just passed away. So I want to say rest in peace to Jim. But he he he wrote a lot of great music, a lot of great big band music.

Rex: And I was fortunate to play his music. Yeah, there was this there was a lot of great players up there. And the only thing that was, oh, I should shout out to this guy, Jarrett Hall, who's great trumpet player up there, and and also Mark Taylor, great alto player. You know, there's a lot of great musicians up there.

Rex: What was what kind of there's a few things that brought me back. And one of them was was the closing of Toulouse, which is sort of like there's Snug Harbor you know, if you can imagine snow closing, it's just that would be huge blow.

Fred: Terrible. Yeah.

Rex: And so they had they had that happened about three months before COVID hit. And, you know, it was really unfortunate because I was I was I was doing maybe a bi monthly, tri monthly gig at two lows and really had a good thing going on you know, going to play a lot of original stuff. And yeah, then the club closed because developer bought the whole block and even in places like The Crocodile, which is on the corner, I'm like, well, what's going to happen to them?

Rex: You know? I mean, that's, that's a place that like, you know, bands like. Yeah, Nirvana and, and Alice In Chains and all these guys got their start kind of at this club.

Rex: Seemed like kind of something you'd protect. And, you know, the crocodile had to move and it's like just but condos on, like, you could imagine like this. Almost like a Frenchman Street. It's in Bell Town, right? And so Bell towns like, you know, kind of world weirdoes are it used to be. And so they they had this night they had this street that was all bars and couple of clubs and and and I guess.

Rex: Right. What's the name of that place? Anyway, there's another arcade where I got to play with Skerrick one night and, you know, yeah. And then they just kind of he's called the Jupiter or something. Anyway, the developer brought the whole block, turn it into condos. I mean, it's, it's, it's unreal the amount of money just going through that city and just, you know, paving right over it.

Rex: I mean, it's, it's it's really unfortunate. And then right around the same time, the two of us close, there's this place called the Jane M Cafe, kind of closer to Pioneer Square or in Pioneer Square, really and that's where I would do a lot of trad gigs with this guy, Mike Doherty, who used to live here for like a year or two.

Rex: But he was he's a real character, you know, he's a tour guide and Pioneer Square, he'd call himself the mayor, Pioneer Square, you know, and he's a real character. And I had a lot of fun playing with him. And he would do all the Storyville Stomp and songs you know, like the real old stuff like and not even a whole lot of bands here do, you know?

Rex: And so he was, he was a lot of fun. So was like I had a lot of gigs dry up, you know, that I really enjoyed really quickly. And then COVID hit. So then I felt like I was kind of back sliding into a new you know, having to go out and network again. I don't I don't do that.

Fred: I want to go through that.

Rex: Seattle's a little bit of a tough city to to meet people and like network. It's it's not as it's not a very friendly city. Once you get to know people, people are really friendly. But I mean.

Fred: A little tougher to make the connection.

Rex: Crossing that threshold is takes a lot. You know, it's just people are just generally more dismissive of of human interaction. It's it's a Scandinavian culture. They're a lot more independent, I guess you'd say. And people don't really want to deal with each other. It's kind of an opposite of of of New Orleans where everybody talks and, you know, you have a 20 minute conversation at the grocery store, so you don't even know.

Fred: Yeah. Right.

Rex: So, you know, it was it was time to come back home and and with COVID, it just felt like, yeah, I wanted to be close to family and just. Yeah, but we're good back home. Yeah.

Fred: Glad you glad you made it back. One of the people that I did want to ask about who it was out this year on your first record and into oblivion. Johnny.

Rex: Johnny, Kendrick. Yeah, we we played together a little bit over there. She's doing very well. She has a really great project that she's doing with with three other vocalists. And I don't remember their names, but the name of the group is called Sage. Yeah. And S.a.g. and you know, I think there's a couple of thoughts on what I forget.

Rex: But anyway, they're their group is, is it's really fantastic. And so they she's been doing really well with that you know. And of course, everybody like, like it was in New Orleans, everybody in Seattle loves her and she's doing really well there. And teaches at Cornish and, you know, just got a got a nice, nice thing built for, you know, twin daughters that are better than her.

Rex: Just hilarious and and and just gorgeous. Yeah. So it's it's it's it's really nice to see her doing well. I mean, obviously, we all miss her you know, but she's she's made a good, very good place for herself. And yeah, her new group is is really she's kind of there touring a little bit with that. I think they were like Grammy nominated.

Fred: Yeah. It's like they're kind of breaking out.

Rex: Yeah. They're breaking out a little bit as they should. And so it's good that you know, she's getting that kind of acclaim because that's the kind of acclaim that she deserves.

Fred: She's very talented.

Rex: She's extremely. And so it's it's you know, I'm just I'm happy to see that that's kind of coming to fruition.

Fred: That's good news.

Rex: Yeah.

Fred: Who have you been? Well, I've seen you with Ameena Figueroa and Helen Schilling. Yeah. Since you've been playing, been able to get out and play some live more live gigs. So opening up here. Who else? Who else are you working with? Riggs.

Rex: Oh, yeah. You know, it's. It's been, uh, I'm playing again with, uh, with Jim Singleton coming up. We're doing, like, a snug gig, I think on the 10th that this month. And then we're doing something next month, which I don't know if it's also it's nug or somewhere else, but he's putting out this record that we recorded along like five years ago.

Rex: And so he's putting out this, this record. So that'll be interesting ensemble. It's got like Justin Peake and Mike Dillon and Brad Walker and myself, I think was the lineup. So it's a that'll be fun to get to that again. But yeah, I've been playing around. I subbed for Tony to Grotty a couple of weeks back or a week back at Snug Harbor.

Rex: Because I guess, I guess he had, he had to go for personal reasons. So I, I got to play kind of like with Astral Project I guess, but it was like it was Steve's gig. So I mean, I guess if Steve gets a gig, I'll play with him, you know, and, and then well whatever's coming to the doc, you know, Larry Seaburg.

Rex: So whenever you get something that's like I'm usually doing.

Fred: Yeah. He's Gone Astray. A band. Oh yeah. That was a great band. In fact, Larry told me once, he said, Well, that band will never play again because Rex: left town yeah.

Rex: It was, it was a really tough blow, I think, for him. Yeah. Because we don't we'd, he'd had a lot of projects that were really doing well. You know, he had his quartet, and we got to go to Taiwan with his quartet, and, and he put out a good record with that. And then that we really enjoyed recording at parlor when it was still going.

Rex: And then he had Australia Band and then the all, all the stuff for Jerome and now he's, he's doing a he, we played a couple of weeks at the Mini Opera House in.

Fred: The.

Rex: Christmas time, the Nutcracker Suite that he reimagined. And I mean he really put his heart and soul into it and it sounds great. So he's he's going to record the music he's going to, you know, he's going to figure out all the logistics. But you know, that's, that's a really awesome reimagining of all that music. And so I think at some point we'll be doing something like that at, you know, somewhere around somewhere around town.

Fred: Yeah. I look forward to that.

Rex: That'll be also going to do some Dojo stuff with with Adonis Rose leading the band. So getting getting back in the mix with that.

Fred: New record was surreal. I mean, it was really good.

Rex: Yeah. We played a live concert. One of the I think it was the first one when they, you know, the opening after COVID, the Jazz Center. So I really, you know, like the turnaround that he's making with that and, you know, getting it in in a new, better, more fertile territory. He's he's he's he's really doing a great job.

Rex: And so it's good to be back with that and yes, real amazing that that was that was a really fun night.

Fred: Yeah. And you've got a record coming out maybe this spring yeah.

Rex: Potentially, I think so. It's it's a it's a bit of a pandemic project. A little bit. I start of recording a lot of the stuff before COVID, and it's basically a solo record. And I've overdubbed myself endlessly and create all these pieces. Some of the pieces were kind of generated right after into oblivion. But I've also mixed it in with some newer stuff.

Rex: It's, it's all kind of a suite style format. So it's, it's, it's, it's my pay in, I guess you could say to nature. It's a, it's a giant kind of I don't want to say a love letter to nature, but a kind of like a surrendering of the self to nature. And so what I was trying to do was create a natural language in the, in the, in the work and have it purely belong to itself.

Rex: And so, I mean, I'm really happy with how it's sounding. I have to go to you know, mix it with Mark Bingham. It also has a lot of spoken word in it with little poems that I've written.

Fred: Is that something you've been doing a good bit of?

Rex: Oh, yeah, I've, I've written lyrics and poetry, you know, off and on for the past. So, you know, since I was a teenager or whatever. But I, I'm really I I feel really good about where it's at. You know, I would, I would do these things like I would make a playlist of, of like going back to Emerson, like all these, all these readings of Emerson in these little snippets.

Rex: And then I'd put a piece of music and then I'd have a snippet of ever since I kind of create these things for myself, or I'm mixing like Georgie Lake Ligeti with, with Emerson. And I don't know, I was toying around with it. So I'll so really love the records that Allen Ginsberg did, like The Lion for Real, which Mark worked on, you know, so I'm so privileged to like work on this kind of stuff with Mark because he's put out, you know, he's been a part of some of the greatest works in that genre, in my opinion.

Rex: I mean, the line for real with Bill Frisell and everybody on it, it's, it's, that's an incredible record. And so and then I was, you know, I really like stuff like Leonard Cohen, like, like Dear Heather, you know, that's a fun it's a really funny, fun track. But so, you know, it's, it's a kind of a foray into this into a spoken word, music hybrid and I'm really happy with how it how it's turning out.

Rex: It's, it's, it's pretty close and yeah, it's just kind of my hope that it moves the needle a little bit in terms in terms of getting away from you know, this industrialists hubris mentality, you know, and try to try to get back to, to this humility before for the greater powers there.

Fred: So reintegrate ourselves in the natural world, you know?

Rex: I hope so. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, it's, it's we, we find a foothold either way, but yeah, we're going to have so do less or something. Yeah. So it's yeah, I'm happy with where it's going. I'm probably anticipating a late spring release and I'm not sure how we're going to perform it because it was, it was kind of a large ensemble of me.

Rex: You know, like it would be, you know, seven people with bass and. Right. And, you know, keyboards or string, you know, I could do any you could take any incarnation. But, you know, right now it's just me and like me on woodwinds and synths and spoken word and some like sonic layers that I just recorded out in fields and in front of my house and stuff got a great track.

Rex: The locusts went this, this this season.

Fred: The locusts.

Rex: Yeah.

Fred: So and that's titled The Poetry of.

Rex: The Poetry of Flowers. Yeah, it's a yeah. And yeah. Should be it should be coming out soon. Well, I'm hoping, you know, it's going to got to get wrapped up one way or another and you know, I hate to just sit on it so. Yeah.

Fred: Get it done and move on to something.

Rex: Right. Yeah. We'll see what, what's coming so. Yeah. Yes, indeed.

Fred: All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us today.

Rex: Yeah, my pleasure.

Fred: For our guest here at Talk and Jazz has been Rex: Gregory and we hope you'll join us for our next session, which will feature the wonderful saxophonist Ricardo Pascal.

Rex: Oh, man. That'll be very fun. Yeah.

Fred: We always try to have fun.

Rex: He's a I'm a big fan is.

Fred: Yeah, me too. And of your music and being here and talking about it.

Rex: All right. Thank you for it.

Fred: Thanks, folks.

Outstanding saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, composer and all around great musician, Rex: Gregory talks jazz with Fred Kasten.